Greetings from the Edge!
Happy Holidays, Edgies! This week, merry missive of mysterious magic is anything but mundane. Bernard and the Genie, a 1991 made for tv movie starring Alan Cumming as our protagonist, Bernard Bottle, Lenny Henry as our manic Genie Josephus, and Rowan Atkinson as Bernard’s Scrooge-ish employer, Charles Pinkworth. Three British comedy giants come together to make one of the maddest Christmas specials ever. Now, will it be insanely good or just good and insane? Let’s find out!
Opening on a dusty corridor, a torch-wielding wizard played by John Gabriel pursues Josephus. It seems that on his first night as a knife thrower, Josephus had a bit of an accident with the wizard’s daughter, his assistant: a fatal accident. After running him down, the wizard curses Josephus to an eternity trapped in a magic lamp doing the bidding of others as a genie.
A mere 2000 years later, we see Bernard Bottle being chauffeured to work in a limousine. Soon he arrives to universal adulation from his fellows for discovering two priceless paintings that their art dealership has sold for 50 million British pounds. He is showered in gifts and flowers and ushered in to see his boss, Charles Pinkworth. Upon discovering that Bernard promised half of the money for the paintings to the little old ladies he bought them from should they prove valuable, Pinkworth reneges on the deal, promptly fires Bernard, and smears his reputation throughout the art world, ensuring that Bernard is unemployable in his own field.
A dejected Bernard is stripped of his gifts by his former office mates and returns home to discover that his girlfriend is cheating on him with his best friend. Soon she has cleaned out their apartment, leaving Bernard alone and heartbroken with his few remaining possessions. As he wanders through his apartment, he finds an old lamp and idly starts to clean it. There is an explosion, and Bernard is being wheeled into the emergency ward. After being treated, Bernard returns home to find Josephus wielding a scimitar and trying to kill him. Soon Bernard stumbles on the fact that Josephus is his Genie and a whirlwind of insanity sweeps them both through a London Christmas… with a little art theft, murder, conspicuous junk food consumption, and flying carpet riding thrown in for good measure.
While the effects in Bernard and the Genie are nothing to write home about, they are both fun and effective. With Lenny Henry on at full blast, it’s hard to notice much else. Some composite shots for flying carpet rides ( which are pretty bad, to be honest ), a lot of disappearing effects, and wayyyyy more explosions than in most holiday specials make up the bulk of Bernard and the Genie‘s effects work.
For a little BBC holiday comedy, it also has an unusual amount of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Leonardo, to be specific. I won’t spoil how they manage to work him in. Also, did you know in Britain they were called Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, because Ninjas are apparently not kid friendly in the Isles?
Bernard and the Genie is a fast and funny Holiday comedy, but if you scratch the surface, it has a little bit more to say than you might at first suspect. It has a really nice friendship, more than a little holiday season capitalistic subversion ( although, see my comments on product placement in the Nerd Corner ), and just a little murder. Because hey, it’s the Holidays, and if you manage to get through the season without wishing violent death on at least one person ( or perhaps an entire side of your family… ), you’re doing better than most.
I do have to say that Alan Cumming and Lenny Henry do yeoman’s work on this picture and, with great support like Rowan Atkinson and the massive talent pool the BBC is famous for, they’re up to the task. In less able hands, it’s pretty obvious that Bernard and the Genie would have fallen flat.
Bernard and the Genie is well worth your time, and it definitely gets the Edge seal of approval. Like your favorite holiday candy, it might not be good for you, but who can resist those beautifully empty calories? Also, unlike last week’s excellent Hogfather, Bernard and the Genie clocks in at just over an hour. Who says all Christmas guests overstay their welcome?
Whether you’re alone and feeling down, you’re looking for something to watch with some friends or you need something to keep your tenuous grip on sanity amidst the most hostile of familial encroachments give Bernard & the Genie a try. It just might make your Christmas a little bit more merry.
Nerdy Speculation Corner: Warning, may contain both spoilers and dangerous amounts of geekery!
Okay let’s not sugar coat it. Bernard and the Genie is positively rife with product placement, everything from fast food to soda and movies. Considering the notorious cheapness of the BBC, you have to wonder if they actually managed to make a profit before Bernard and the Genie was even released. The very idea of mixing Pizza Hut pizza with KFC fried chicken makes my lower GI tract do the indigestion mambo.
From a time travel story prospective, Bernard and the Genie is a HUGE mess. However, unlike most time travel stories filled with paradoxes and discontinuities, Bernard and the Genie has the ultimate get out of plot hole card: “A Wizard Did It!”
As a Lenny Henry fan, I have to recommend his series, Chef! If you like Bernard and the Genie, you’ll get a kick out of Chef!, although Henry isn’t quite the manic ball of energy he is in Bernard and the Genie.
Next week, we’ll be returning to more of our standard fare: monsters, mayhem, and budgets that couldn’t cover an office party drinks tab. Ring in the New Year with some old shlock here on the Edge!